Epiphany 1:Baptism of Our Lord Genesis 1:1-5 Acts 19:1-7 Mark 1:4-11 Let us pray: Most gracious God, as the heavens were opened at Jesus’ baptism, so open to us the gates of your mercy. As the Spirit descended upon him, keep your Holy Spirit upon us also. As Jesus heard your voice above the waters, may we listen and keep your word so our thoughts and actions are pleasing to you and a blessing to others and to ourselves. We ask it in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Today, we remember the baptism of Jesus by his cousin John in the River Jordan. Now, John’s the guy we’ve been hearing a lot about lately (since the beginning of Advent), and after today, he drops into the background.You see, we no longer need that voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” For the Lord is here, born on earth to save us. And we no longer have any confusion about who is the Messiah, for the one more powerful than John has come.John’s role as prophet, foretelling the great story of salvation as known in the person of Jesus Christ: that role is fulfilled with Jesus’ baptism today. John is sometimes seen as the last of the old order: the last prophet in the line of Isaiah and Jeremiah, the last to baptize with water only and not also the Holy Spirit, and the last to demand repentance before the coming of the kingdom of God.
For Jesus proclaims over and over again that the kingdom of God has drawn near us; it is here, and now. No longer coming, or far off, or even just the other side of a thin divide—but here, very near us.Among the very first documented acts of his earthly ministry, the twelve-year-old Jesus picks up a scroll and reads from an earlier prophecy of Isaiah: that the spirit of the Lord has anointed him, and that he has been sent to announce good news to the poor—and that this prophecy has been fulfilled. “Today, in your very hearing this text has come true,” he says.
So, this baptism of Jesus: it seems to have achieved a radical transformation in him. No longer just the carpenter’s son, no longer a refugee in Egypt, no longer just another human being to walk the face of the earth.He moves on from here to teach in synagogues and have people sing his praises. He will heal the sick, and make the dead live again. He will preach and perform miracles. He will amaze people with his teaching, and baffle us even today by submitting to a shameful death on a cross.And he will appear again when he ascends into heaven, prophesying of his return in glory to judge the earth—a second coming we still anticipate, two millennia later.One day people know him as that clever boy, Joseph’s son. And the next he’s revealed as the Christ, the Messiah, the chosen one—God’s son, the beloved, with whom God is well pleased.In his baptism, Jesus seems to have become an entirely different person.
So, too, with our baptism:None of us is Christ, but each and every one of us is the beloved, with whom God is well pleased.And each and every one of us was forever changed and transformed in our baptism.And each and every one of us continues to be changed and transformed—in ways big and small—throughout our earthly ministry.Now filled with the Holy Spirit, we—like Jesus—are commissioned and sent forth to proclaim the good news of God’s favor, to proclaim release for prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the broken victims go free, to proclaim that the time of God’s favor is here.
That’s our job: to live baptismally.We are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.Baptism is an amazing gift. By the waters of baptism, we are lead from death to life, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life. In it, we are buried with Christ in his death. By it, we share in his resurrection. Through it, we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. And baptism is also an awesome responsibility. We are also no longer simply to live as ordinary people in the world:We are to boldly confess Jesus as Lord and Savior;to strive for justice and peace among all people;and to seek and serve Christ in everyone we meet.
Those of us who profess and call ourselves Christians are called to live a different kind of life, a life set apart from the world around us and yet somehow also very much in its midst.By baptism, the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled—in Jesus, and in each one of us. God looks at us—the beloved, with whom God is well pleased—and says, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of God has risen upon you.” Amen.